O fount of gardens, paupers’ open
You cure the sick, disease alleviate.(1)
‘In Thy name we have
done charitable deeds’
Even Gerald of Wales, a staunch critic of the Cistercians, acknowledged
the monks’ generosity to guests and the needy. He noted that their
gates were never closed, and that their liberality excelled all others.
However, Gerald questioned their rather untoward methods of financing such
generous works of hospitality and charity, and concluded that they would,
in fact, be better to temper their liberality.
Read more of Gerald’s account.
Fountains, like other Cistercian abbeys,
made a significant contribution to charity, distributing food,
clothing, money and providing other support for the local poor.
distributed alms to worthy locals, and a chosen few were probably
accommodated in the secular hospice each night.(2) The
porter of Fountains
would have handed out leftover bread from the monks’ refectory
and on certain occasions, bulls.(3) He
may also have distributed shoes and clothing that the monks no
longer required.(4) Cistercian charity
extend to disreputable women or the lazy, for the monks were concerned
to help the worthy and deserving poor.(5) Accordingly,
the administration of hospitality and charity was restricted at
harvest time when
work was plentiful and those in need could earn their bread.(6)
of crises, Fountains was a source of refuge to the desperate.
The ‘Foundation History’ (Narratio) records how
the community was duly rewarded for its kindness to a pilgrim who
the abbey gate during the famine of 1133, seeking bread in the
name of Christ.
The porter explained to the
man that the community had no food, but, the famished pilgrim was
insistent and the affair reached
the ears of
the abbot. Abbot Richard instructed
that the pilgrim should be given one of the 3 ½ loaves that had
been set aside for the carpenters, and
assured his community that God would provide for them. The truth
words was soon proven, for when Eustace FitzJohn of Knaresborough
Castle heard of the monks’ plight, he sent two of his men with
a cartload of the finest quality bread to the abbey gates; significantly,
with the bread right on the spot where the pilgrim had received his
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